The University of Toronto is one of the best universities in the world, containing some of the most intelligent and talented student athletes in Canada — leaders in both academics and sports. As a worldwide leader the University of Toronto should be promoting all OUA sports and CIS sports. Unfortunately, the reality is that the more teams offered by the university, the less funding each team will receive. With less funding, it is more challenging to be successful at every sport; however to remove Varsity status from small teams in order to budget more money for larger teams is not a solution.
Funding is still an important issue, which means student athletes as a team or an entire body need to take initiative to solve this problem. Current programs such as fundraising or Adopt-A-Blue are helping, but new ideas are needed about how to increase team’s funding. The University of Toronto and their Varsity athletes need to take the initiative in developing new ideas and methods to increase funding and the competiveness of their teams. Simply cutting the number of Varsity teams to increase funding for the remaining ones, a proposal Kevin Deagle supported in his op-ed in the December 3 issue of The Varsity, is not a good solution because it assumes that small increases in funding for teams with large budgets will ultimately lead to those teams winning more often.
Though we have not been as successful as our Guelph counterparts, who have won 13 OUA and 8 CIS titles in the past four years, the situation needs to be approached with a positive attitude. The University of Western Ontario fields 35 athletic teams that have won 25 OUA banners in the past four years, demonstrating that it is possible to win while offering many different teams. Furthermore, many of our teams are improving every year, and these improvements from previous records should be recognized.
One way to improve our teams without new funding is by pushing student athletes, regardless of sport, to be leaders inside and outside of the classroom. This could include being involved in volunteer organizations, volunteer coaching in the community, or excelling academically and becoming leaders in their academic fields. Student athletes who excel in all areas can provide inspiration not only to our current students, but also to parents, and to middle and high school students who play the same sport. This will help to promote U of T’s athletic programs. Realistically, most of our athletes will not be able to pursue careers solely within their sport; the focus should be on creating successful student athletes, not just winning teams.
Focus on wining should be a twofold approach — if participation in sport is creating successful alumni who can give back to their former programs, then why should we reduce these opportunities? Participation in Varsity sports leads to success. Som Seif, founder of Claymore investments, an engineering graduate who played Varsity water polo and then came back to coach the Varsity team for numerous years, and Taryn Grieder, a Varsity lacrosse player recently awarded her Ph.D in Neuroscience are examples of this. If the phrase “once a Varsity Blue always a Varsity Blue” holds true, then creating successful alumni will not only increase funding through donations but improve Varsity athletics by making U of T better known for developing successful student leaders within its athletics programs.
To determine what makes an economically ‘successful’ U of T Varsity team, the returns on funding over past years should be reviewed. Our understanding of returns should include cost per win, cost per OUA title, and cost per CIS title where applicable. Additionally, returns should include graduation rates per team. If the university is investing money on student athletes, they should be providing some value to the University of Toronto and surrounding community. Successful alumni, either within their sport or in other careers, as well as those who come back to coach our teams — some of whom are volunteers — should also be a factor when considering if a Varsity team has been successful.
Offering many Varsity sports is also valuable as athletes come from all over the world, convinced to attend U of T because their sport is offered here. As these athletes return to their communities around the world, they act as role models and inspirations promoting both their sport and U of T.
Though winning is important in university sports, we need to see the bigger picture; that the existence of numerous Varsity sports has many indirect benefits that are difficult to quantify. To evaluate success solely on the basis of winning is extremely short-sighted and we should also consider the indirect effects and benefits.
Funding is an important issue but reducing the number of Varsity teams is not a solution. The success of our athletic programs should not be solely defined by winning, but also by their role in creating successful student athletes. We are all U of T students, we are all “boundless,” and together we all need to rise to meet this challenge.
Luke Spooner is a pharmaceutical chemistry student who plays on the Varsity Blues men’s water polo team.